Magic & Magicians by Chance Duncan 2007

Magic or conjuring is sometimes called the "Second Oldest Profession" and has a history dating back to the year 2700 BC and there are ancient Engytpian recordsgiving details of performaces before Pharoah Cheops who died in 2494 BC. The first known performance of conjuring was by a magician named Dedi in ancient Egypt and details him performing the Cups and Balls trick. Between 50-300 AD, the Acetabularii performed the same trick in ancient Rome using stones and small vinegar cups. This trick uses three wide-mouthed cups and three small balls. The magician makes the balls pass through the solid bottoms of the cups, jump from cup to cup, disappear from the cup and appear in other places, or vanish from various places and reappear under the cups.

Jesus Christ is sometimes thought of as a magician - he performed 33 miracles in his short lifetime. He healed, he turned water into wine and he brought the dead back to life. Relics based on the life of Christ, pieces of the true Cross, bones of martyrs and saints, were routinely collected by the religiously faithful at this time as it was believed these relics had the power to heal or produce miracles. Christianized magic, disapproved by the Church, was more focused on angels and demons. Magicians were supposed to protect themselves with fasting, prayers, sacraments and by using the Names of God (Tetragrammaton).

In the Dark Ages 400-1000AD, magic was thought to be occult in its nature and associated with witchcraft: persecution was rampant. Magicians were often jailed and sometimes killed, condemned as witches, sorcerers and devil worshippers. It was not a common form of entertainment again until the Middle Ages 1000-1500AD, when society was more open to circus and street performers doing sleight of hand tricks although not always in public. Magicians performed for royalty, nobility and even high ranking members of the clergy. Card tricks, juggling, sleight of hand, mind reading and making objects disappear were all part of a magicians performance by this time period. Magical writers kept themselves to compilations of myth, legend and spell collections (grimoires or Books of Shadows). The Renaissance brought the rise of science and gave rise to skepticism. Science became an enemy of magic and the Protestant Reformation gave rise to rampant witch hunting with millions of people burned, drowned, stoned, tortured viciously and condemned for heresy.

Magicians were people skilled in the hidden arts of magic which appear to defy the natural laws of nature. Often magicians were called enchanters, sorcerers, wizards, mages, magus, necromancer and thamaturgists , some of these names have a very negative perception with people based on some of the practioners and fiction writers. There are also Ceremonial Magicians who follow the traditions of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and of Ordo Templis Ordo, who view magic as a rational act and have extensive definitions and theories on the nature of magic. Ceremonial magic employs the use of magic words said to have the power to command a spirit or the intrude on another persons free will. They also involve the use of magical tools like wands and athames as a part of their ceremonies. Often ceremonies were performed in a magic circle to protect the magician from the spirit he or she was invoking (bringing into themselves) or evoking (bringing into their presence). They also used symbols, sigils (special markings depicting and angel or other spirit), incenses, oils and candles in their ceremonies. Folk magicians also came into the fore during the Rennaissance and they utilized astrology, folklore, omens, superstitions and different versions of Christian ritual magic.

In 1584, Reginald Scott published "The Discoverie of Witchcraft" sharing the secrets of magicians and also to stop the superstition and persecution associated with magic. In 1805 the popularity of Jean-Eugene Robert Houdin, called the Father of Modern Magic, brought magic in from the streets and in front of an audience making it respectable.. Harry Houdini, born Ehrich Weiss in 1874, became a famous escapologist and exposer of fake mediums called the King of Cards and King of Handcuffs. He left a special code for his wife, based on a magicians tapping trick, as a test for spiritualists trying to contact him after his death, none were successful. "Modern Magic' was first published in 1876 by Professor Louis Hoffman and was considered a definitive work on the state of magic at that time. In 1902 S.W. Ardnase wrote "The Expert at the Card Table" which is considered to be the first and most important book written on magic. In February of 1905 The British Magical Society was formed in London under the leadership of David Devant. It evolved into The Magic Circle which governed the trade and forbade the exposing of trade secrets. In 1921, P.T. Selbit did the first "Sawing in Half" trick. By 1963 with the building of the Magic Castle by Milt Larson and Hollywood to create a performance center for talented magicians, magic was starting to be a big business again.

Magic tricks are supposed to entertain, amuse and create a feeling of wonder and the suspension of disbelief. People do know that trickery is being used but enjoy the skill of the magician and wonder how they did it. Magicians rarely share their secrets as exposing a secret kills the trick and the artform of magic plus interferes with their income as a professional magician. Magicians often belong to professional organization and take the "Magicians Oath":

"As a magician I promise to never reveal the secret of any illusion to a non-magician, without first swearing them into the Magician's Oath. I promise never to perform any illusion for any non-magician, without first practicing the effect until I can perform it well enough to maintain the illusion of magic."

Magicians are expected to live up to this promise but it is accepted that there are people who want to learn how to become magicians so the information is made available through books, magazines, websites, discussion lists, videos, DVD's and other instructional materials. Big name magicians like Criss Angel, David Copperfield, Penn and Teller and many others know that there are few illusions that haven't already been revealed but devise innovative and mind blowing new illusions often based on an old illusions which has become unfamiliar. Penn and Teller often use transparent props to reveal how a trick is done. The world's largest magical organization is the International Brotherhood of Magicians which published a monthly magazine called The Linking Ring.

The performance of magic falls into different categories:

Close-up Magic: The audience is close to or in physical contact with the magician, sometimes this is called table magic and it makes use of props such as cards and coins. Canadian magician, Dai Vernon, billed as the man who fooled Houdini, was a practioner of close-up magic.

Platform magic: the magician stands while performang and is seen by more people in the audience than a close up magician.

Cabaret magic: the magician performs for TV or a large audience at floor level, closer to the audience than an auditorium performance. Night clubs, casinos and comedy clubs would fall into this category. It would have been called parlour magic previously.

Stage magic: large audiences with elaborate, large sized props such as used by David Copperfield, Penn and Teller, Siegfried and Roy in their performances.

Children's magic: performed for children usually at a birthday party, school, preschool or daycare. It is usually comical and has much audience interaction. Many CD's and DVD's are available from performers who specialize in this like David Ginn, Samuel Patrick Smith, Richard Green and Barry Mitchell.

Street magic: also called guerilla magic is a hybrid of stage and close up magic, performed for audiences that don't know they are the audience. The magicians draw a crowd by doing tricks on the street. Criss Angel, David Blaine and Cyril Takayama specialize in this type of performance.

Bizarre magic: utilizes mysticism, horror and fantasy in its performance. Performed in a close up venue but also used on stage. Charles cameron is called the Godfather of Bizarre Magic. Tony Andruzzi, Tony Rave and "Doc" Shiels have all contributed to the development of Bizarre Magic

Mentalism: the magicians creates the impression that they can read thoughts, predict events, control other people minds and similar feats. The Amazing Kreskin, Max Maven, Derren Brown and Banachek all specialize in mentalism.

Shock magic: this is magic that shocks the audience with freakish, dangerous and frightening tricks. Eating razor blades, needles through the arm or face are all common forms of shock magic. Criss Angel, Andrew Mayne and Brian Bushwood all specialize in shock magic.

Corporate magic: utilizes magic as a communication tool rather than as a form of entertainment. They present a meetings, conferences and product launches.

There are many categories of illusions performed by magicians and they fall into several categories:

Production: a rabbit is pulled from a hat; coins falling from an empty bucket, or the magician magically appearing in a puff of smoke on the stage.

Vanish: a coin disappears, birds disappear from a cage all with the snap of a finger or the wave of a magic wand

Transformation: a red hankerchief passed through the magicians hand, turns blue; pick a card, any card using a volunteer from the audience and magically producing the card the volunteer chose

Teleportation: one object is moved from one place to another. One trick called a Transposition, is a double teleportation, the magician puts himself in one box and his assistant in another, both boxes are covered and when uncovered again, they have traded places.

Restoration: a rope is cut into pieces and then restored back to one piece; a newspaper is torn to pieces then restored back to one piece. A restoration puts something back the way it was.

Levitation: The magician or their assistant is floated into the air, a ring passed over them shows no wires are supporting them in the floating position; a scarf dancing in a sealed bottle. Criss Angel (mind Freak) levitates himself and his stool levitations are famous.

Penetration: One solid object passes through another like linking two solid rings, the cup and balls trick.

There are many techniques to master in order to become an effective magician. Sleight of hand is the skillful manipulation of props such as cards, coins, hankerchiefs and other items. They require a lot of practice to perform properly and some have hardware gimmicks to help manifest the trick. Stage magice uses large props that are also gimmicked with a secret mechanism. Common items are boxes in which things or people materialize or dematerialize; rings that can link or unlink; swords, knives and guns which create the illusion of great risk are also use. Magic for children is based on visual effects and the involvement of the children in the process as well as the use of rabbits and doves.

All magic tricks are based on misdirection. The audience's attention is drawn to another location while the magician executes the trick undetected. Snapping the fingers, tossing the prop, or saying "watch this hand" are commonly used to cover what the other hand is doing. It can also change the audience's perception of what is happening, we are told to look in an empty box but that box really has a secret compartment - our thoughts are focused on the word "empty". Misdirection also requires a lot of practice. Patter, or chatter, is also used to misdirect the audience. The magician tells a story, a joke or a narration of what he is doing which focuses our attention wherever the magician wants it to be. Optical illusions are also used to hide or change the location or size of objects. A box with concentric rectangles painted on it, a hollow tabletop bevelled to be thicker in the center are used to make containers appear much thinner than they really are.

It is considered that modern magicians must be very honest that what they are doing is an illusion and not to profess supernatural or psychic powers. We live in a skeptical age and many magicians both in the past, Harry Houdini, and in the present, James Randi (a Canadian), expend much effort debunking psychics, mediums and spiritualists as frauds. James Randi's foundation offers $1 million to anyone who can prove they have psychic ability, but it is disclaimed as "to our satisfaction" and a skeptic cannot be satisfied. Many magicians did and do endorse psychic phenomena though.

Professor Hoffmann, author of Modern Magic, expressed skepticism regarding psychic phenomena. He said that he thought that certain slate-writing phenomena of mediums were probably genuine and not all due to trickery. He was consulted by investigators of the Society for Psychical Research and sat in on a number of seances with Mr. Eglinton, a spiritualist medium. . A brief statement of Robert-Houdin’s was used in a book on animal magnetism written by Edwin Lee. Robert-Houdin attested to the clairvoyant ability of Alexis Didier. Henry Ridgely Evans was a journalist and magic historian who wrote several books exposing fake mediums. He believed in telepathy and said so in his Hours With the Ghosts. Father Carlos de Heredia was a Jesuit and an amateur magician. In his book Spiritism and Common Sense he explained tricks of the mediums, and he acknowledged that some psychical phenomena do exist. Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) had an interest in spiritualism and psychical research and felt that not all the phenomena could be explained by tricks or magic. He was a charter member of the Society for Psychical Research.

Anthropologist-magician Howard Higgins wroteof his experiences among the Tahltan Indians in northwestern British Columbia. He reported a strikingly accurate premonition by one of the Indians. He concluded that there was no normal explanation for it. Donald Michael Kraig, a Canadian, is editor of Fate, a magazine dealing with paranormal topics, has been a professional magician as has Mark Chorvinsky, editor of Strange, a magazine devoted to what is known as “Forteana.” Wallace Lee was a friend of J.B. Rhine, who is viewed as the father of modern parapsychology. Lee saw firsthand some of the early tests of Rhine. He declared that he saw no flaws in Rhine’s procedures. Uri Geller was popular in the 1970's for his paranormal ability to bend spoons and create other phenomena. ESP is used as another way of presenting magic tricks.

I like magic because there is always a surprise behind it and I like the idea of magic. It is fun to try and figure out how they made a trick happen. I am a big fan of Criss Angel who does the "Mind Freak" show. He does amazing tricks like walking on water, walking down the sides of buildings, levitating between two buildings and disappearing. He makes his cat disappear from a box but doesn't rematerialize his cat. He never shows how he does his tricks. There are a couple of new movies out about magic now. "The Illusionist" starring Edward Norton and "The Prestige" starring Christian Bale, Michael Caine and Hugh Jackman which show the atmosphere of suspicion and awe as well as the competition among magicians.

Criss Angel Wave File - Turn your sound on!


Magicians Who Endorsed Psychic Phenomena by George Hansen published in The Linking Ring August 1990, Volume 70, No. 8, pp. 52-54.

Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia


This page was created February 2, 2007.